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My Tribe, a personal realization

April 19, 2009

I was reading one of Chanson’s classic articles that she reposted on Main Street Plaza, and in sleep deprivation, I came to this golden personal realization.

In this article, Chanson describes to a secular Jewish blog community Mormonism’s self-created kinship with Judaism. If you want to read about the nuts and bolts in an easy-to-read manner, start reading the article I linked above. I’ll say that when Chanson described the relative shortness of the entirety of Mormon history…and also the shortness of American history — yet how fiercely loyal to each culture people seem to be…I had to think about things.

Probably the most important real parallel is the Mormon exodus. The Mormons crossed the wilderness as a group (back in the days when it was no small feat to do so) to build their own society in a hostile landscape that they saw as their promised land. This trek — plus a few generations when the Mormons were a fairly isolated group in Utah — forged an identity as a people. (Note that because the Mormon population was isolated during a critical growth period, many sociologists see Mormonism as an ethnicity.) …you may think it’s crazy that a group with such a short history could have a strong attachment to their heritage. but consider the fact that the U.S.A.’s history as a nation isn’t much longer than Mormon history, and look how fiercely proud the Americans are of their national/cultural identity. Mormon history may be short, but it’s memorable, to say the least.

What the above passage made me think of was my own personal history. My family’s own Mormon heritage story is even shorter than the above passage would paint it. I’m not eleventy-billionth generation Mormon. My father was the convert — I guess some members would say he was the pioneer in the family (gotta get that cultural lingo into things…)

Yet, just from my lifetime, I cannot deny that I too have Mormonism within me. It’s part of the way I think and who I am, even though I’m not a believing member.

Isn’t that incredible?

I will tell you though…it’s not been sunshine and daisies the entire way. When I was a stupid kid, I used to think that everyone was a member of my church. When I was a less stupid kid, I came to a realization that there could be non-Mormons…but I was so certain that at least most people were Mormon.

I don’t know when I found out that the church is a relative small-fry in the grand scheme of things, but it was a crazy thing to realize. Not only that, but the church isn’t *just* a small-fry…it’s a small-fry that people see as weird, different, and maybe even cultish.

I had some days when that last one would strike me hard. Why would I be a member of an organization people thought was a cult? Why would I be an unlucky 1 out of 13 million humans on this earth today?

Over time, I came to realize that…hey…I wasn’t born and raised in Scientology (…but would I think the same if I were? If I were scientologist, would I brush it off and say, “Hey, at least I wasn’t raised Mormon”?)

and it’s not all bad…there were times when I became fiercely defensive and protective of the church too. And even now, I do not like to see blatant misinformation and lies. I do not like to see “witness to Mormons” groups or whatever.

I came to an awareness that this Mormon thing is in many ways a strength. They always talk about being a peculiar people, but…it’s true. This is my tribe too.

I was disappointed at the comments on Main Street Plaza…many of them focused on trying to point out how silly the Mormon “connection” to Judaism was. And I mean, I’m not going to say that these guys are wrong — theological or cultural connections to Judaism probably are farfetched. But the desire to have this me-too kinship with such a rich cultural and religious heritage isn’t ignoble, right? Really, regardless of the silliness of saying we’re another tribe or of saying we have a persecution complex too (when our history has been much kinder to us in comparison)…isn’t the striving to create a cultural connection anyway what makes Mormonism different? I mean, how many times do you hear people leave another church and still say they are culturally of that religion? You’ve gove lapsed Catholics, which might be a comparison, but in general, if someone leaves a church or a religion, it’s gone. Poof! But Mormonism is different. It’s a deeper identity.


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  1. I was kind of disappointed by the comments too. It was like this knee-jerk “What? Can’t you see how stupid Mormonism is?” when I’m just trying to look at Mormonism from a different angle.

    Actually, I think it’s really cool and interesting that a sense of Mormon “heritage” can be transmitted in a single generation like that. So your dad was the convert — did your mom convert to Mormonism as well?

  2. yes, my mom did. But my mom is kinda apathetic to the whole religion thing (and she’s one of those people who got offended by someone and stopped going to church — but it’s no big deal, because she wasn’t ever truly converted, I don’t think, whereas my dad got into things in a big way.)

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